Although a loss is still a loss, the Canmore Eagles can certainly look at Saturday night’s 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Spruce Grove Saints as at least somewhat of a moral victory.
The Saints, ranked as the nation’s #7 Junior A hockey club, jumped out to an early 4-0 first-period lead and never looked back as they improved their overall record to an impressive 48-7-4, and also upped their home record to 25-3-2
To their credit, the Eagles, who suffered a humiliating 12-2 loss to the Saints in Canmore back on Jan. 16, never gave up in this game as they fought back to make it a 5-3 game early in the third period before eventually succumbing to the powerful Saints.
With the loss, the Eagles overall regular season record falls to 24-27-6. Canmore still holds down fourth-place in the AJHL Southern Division standings with 54 points, one point up on the fifth-place Drumheller Dragons.
The Dragons and Eagles are now confirmed to meet in the opening round of the playoffs, with home-ice advantage in the best-of-five series still to be determined.
Canmore has three games left in their season, while the Dragons have just two games remaining. The two teams will meet in Canmore on Friday, March 4 with potentially home-ice advantage rights on the line.
Kurt Hildebrand (3rd), Logan Ferguson (19th) and Jake Ashton (7th) had the Eagle goals in the 6-3 loss to the Saints. Goaltender Ryan Gilchrist, who just returned from a two-week stint with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, stopped 31 of 37 Saints shots to see his Eagle record drop to 9-8-2.
“We got into a big hole early against the Saints but I thought we showed plenty of character to battle back,” said Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Andrew Milne. “It would have been easy for us to quit down four zip to one of the best teams in the country, but we didn't and I am proud of the guys for that. We worked hard and controlled the play for long periods of time. If we continue to play like we did in the second and third periods, we will win a lot of hockey games going forward.”
The Eagles will wrap up their current three-game weekend road trip on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 28) with a game in Drayton Valley against the 22-31-4 Thunder. The Thunder, who defeated the Eagles 3-2 in Canmore back on November 20th, fired their Head Coach and General Manager Mike Mueller earlier this week and are 3-7 in their last 10 games.